U.N. Secretary-General Visits the Middle East

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan began a 7-day regional trip to the Middle East on 11 June 2001. The visit was part of his ongoing effort to find a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli crisis and to promote a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement based on relevant United Nations resolutions. The Secretary-Generalís trip, according to his spokesman, was aimed at pressing the two parties to implement the recommendations of the Report of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee (Mitchell Report) in their entirety. While in the region, the Secretary-General was asked if the current efforts by mediators would alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. He replied, "I would hope to see a better situation for the Palestinian people." He then added, "I know they are suffering, I know the pain, and I think this is why we are all here."

On 16 June 2001, the Secretary-General visited the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Jerusalem, where he met with President Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian officials. At a press conference with President Arafat, the Secretary-General was asked whether the Mitchell Report replaces the Security Council resolutions on the Middle East, to which the Secretary-General responded firmly, "the United Nations resolutions stand, and are relevant". He further explained that the Mitchell Report provides a road map to the negotiating table where discussions will take place in the framework of resolutions 242 and 338, based on the concept of land for peace.

On the same day, the Secretary-General visited a girlsí school run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) where Palestinian children suffering psychological trauma resulting from the brutality of the Israeli occupying forces receive special counseling. He then visited one of the nine clinics in the West Bank where Palestinians receive rehabilitation for traumatic injuries sustained during the current tragic situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Further, during his visit to Israel, the Secretary-General proposed a tri-lateral meeting between President Arafat, Mr. Peres and himself. The meeting was staunchly opposed by Prime Minister Sharon and thus never took place. When asked about his proposal, the Secretary-General cited his experience in peacekeeping, stating that the way to resolve conflicts at the military level is to have people at the political level that can sort them out.

Before his departure to the Middle East, which also included visits to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, the Secretary-General stressed that the two sides had to move from the security contacts that they have had under the Tenet Work Plan to political talks on implementing the Mitchell Report. The Secretary-General stated that "the international community should now work with them to get them into the logic of implementation of the Mitchell plan which envisages not just a cease-fire but a cooling off period, confidence building measures and eventually return to the table."